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Victims of the Algerian gas plant attack remembered

ROUGH CUT (No reporter narratioN) Algeria holds a memorial service, attended by Japanese officials, for those killed during a siege by Islamist militants at the In Amenas gas plant, as partial output is resumed. Algeria's Tiguentourine gas plant resumed some production on Sunday (February 24), more than a month after dozens of foreign workers were killed in an Islamist attack there, the head of the state energy firm Sonatrach told state radio. A memorial service was held at the gas plant on Sunday for the victims of the attack. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal laid a flower wreath in front of a memorial stone with the names of victims engraved on it during the official ceremony. After the ceremony Sellal turned a valve at the gas plant, resuming some production at the facility. The gas facility operated by BP in partnership with Norway's Statoil and Sonatrach had been closed since gunmen attacked it on Jan. 15 and seized hundreds of hostages before the army stormed in four days later. According to Sonatrach chief executive Abdelhamid Zerguine partial productions are expected to yield 3 billion cubic metres per year. The plant previously produced about 9 billion cubic metres per year of gas, about 11.5 percent of the country's annual total. Speaking to journalists at the gas plant on Sunday, the Algerian prime minister said: "Today is a victory for Algeria in countering international terrorism." Algeria is a top energy supplier of gas to Europe, and a key U.S. ally in its fight against al Qaeda in the Sahel region of north Africa. The attack on the plant was led by rebels loyal to senior al Qaeda member Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Some 37 foreign hostages, and 29 rebels were killed during the assault on the plant 50 kilometres from the town of In Amenas, near the Libyan border. When journalists visited the site two weeks after the attack, the marks of hundreds of bullets and several grenade blasts scarred the concrete walls of some of the single-storey villas where foreign employees lived, and where some had died. Local workers in anti-contamination suits were still labouring on the clean-up operation. A conflict in the 1990s between security forces and Islamist insurgents, which killed an estimated 200,000 people, still casts a shadow over Algeria. The fighting started after the military-backed government annulled an election which hardline Islamists were poised to win. Violence has sharply diminished but a hardcore of militants affiliated to al Qaeda continue to strike in remote areas in the north of the country. Twelve militants have been killed by government forces during the past 48 hours in the northern regions of Boumerdes and Chlef, a statement released by the Ministry of Defence said. Some 160 insurgents have been killed in Algeria since June 2012, including the 29 who launched the attack against the gas plant, a security source who asked not to be named told Reuters.

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